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The view from 57,000 feet

Photo courtesy of Bill Love

It seems like only yesterday. But actually it was more than half a century ago. In August of 1964, I pulled my car into the Drake parking lot for the very first time, got out and took my first steps on the Drake University campus. I was an incoming freshman intent upon pursuing a college education.

Now, nearly 57 years later, I have a grandson who pulled his car into the Drake parking lot last August, got out and took his first steps on the Drake University campus as an incoming freshman. Proud grandfather, proud grandson.

A lot has changed in and around Drake University in the last 57 years. But a lot has also remained the same.

I spent several years as a Drake student, earning my BFA degree in 1968, and my MFA in 1973. My college life experience wasn’t anything like most of Drake’s students, in that I lived at home on Des Moines’ south side and didn’t take my meals or bed down at night on campus. I would occasionally hang out with friends in their dorm rooms, but that was as close to dorm life as I got. I was an art major with a journalism minor, pursuits that continued to serve me well throughout my career. A fellow art student (Terry Bell) and I created a weekly “editorial” cartoon for the Times-Delphic for a couple of our years in undergraduate school. It was titled, “The Beguiled Ones” (I don’t remember why) and we signed the cartoons with the pseudonyms “Hirshel and Virg” because we had an art professor who didn’t think much of cartoons or cartooning and was apparently pretty easily fooled.

When I first arrived at Drake, Paul Sharp was the president of the university. The Dean of Students at the time had the last name of Casebeer (which was a source of comedy to those students used to having to stretch the truth when asked for some form of ID at Peggy’s). Meredith Hall was a sparkling new building on the Drake campus housing the journalism school. The Drake art classes, however, were held in an old wooden WWII barracks located just west of Meredith and just north of the main Drake parking lot.

The head of the Drake art department at the time was Leonard Good. The art professors who had the biggest impact on me during my time at Drake were Stanley Hess (I maintain he taught me everything I know about graphic design), Jules Kirschenbaum (who got me started on a lifelong love of artistic painting), and Richard Black (who coached me all the way through graduate school in printmaking, and then became a lifelong friend).

The Drake basketball coach during my first years at Drake was the legendary Maury John, who went on to take the 1968-69 men’s basketball team to the final four in the NCAA tournament. Drake’s basketball games at that time were all played downtown at Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium.

The University Bookstore was in a spacious, free-standing building across from campus on 25th Street. The Varsity movie theater (widely known for exhibiting great art films), Vic’s Restaurant (home of the famous “Double B”), and Ingram’s Art Supplies (where I spent most of my money) were the very heart and soul of Dogtown. Farley’s Supermarket on Forest Avenue was still a real thing and always handy as a go-to source for anytime snacks. The few construction projects going on in the surrounding area were mostly renovations of older houses and buildings.

And when I first stepped foot on the Drake campus, Harold Hughes was the Governor of Iowa, Lyndon Johnson was the President of the United States, and criminals were much easier to spot because they were the only ones wearing masks.

The University Bookstore is now tucked away in a nondescript, out-of-the-way location somewhere in the middle of the Drake campus. The Varsity Theater is an empty shell of a building (although rumors abound that it may be put back on life support in some form shortly). Vic’s Restaurant (along with the famous “Double B”) and Ingram’s Art Supplies no longer exist in Dogtown and neither does Farley’s Supermarket on Forest.

Today the growing Drake neighborhood is alive and bustling with all kinds of new construction…hotels, apartments, office buildings, classrooms and who knows what else? Drake now has its own home basketball arena on campus and the Drake basketball coach is Darian DeVries (a man who seems to have the Bulldogs heading down the same success path as Maury John did 57 years ago).

But I suspect that some things also remain unchanged even after 57 years. My grandson is now carrying on my tradition of serving on the Times-Delphic staff. I know for a fact that a great administration and faculty are carrying on the Drake tradition of quenching the students’ thirsts for knowledge and Peggy’s is still actively quenching the students’ thirst…period. But much to my chagrin as a lifelong Des Moines resident, I have seen no convincing evidence that the city as a whole has made any meaningful movement toward proudly embracing Drake as their hometown university. I couldn’t understand that even 57 years ago. Still today, though Drake has been a constant source of educational excellence in this city since 1881, everything still seems to be all about the bigger state schools. Des Moines has something to be very proud of in Drake University. Ask any Drake grad about the quality and experience of their education at Drake and you will hear nothing but rave reviews!

Not surprisingly though, one more thing hasn’t changed in 57 years. The Drake Relays. Known by some as America’s Athletic Classic, it has been putting Des Moines on the map since 1910, and continues to attract national and international attention to this day. At this year’s running, it will celebrate more than 110 years of existence and it’s just one more reason why Des Moines should be super proud of Drake University and everything it stands for!


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